The nicest chicken coop in Livingston County can now be found at Light of the World Academy in Pinckney, and the story of how it got there is nothing short of remarkable.
And it all centers around a sixth-grade student named Elijah Smith. He conceived the project, helped get it built, and even had to get the local law changed to allow it all to happen.
Light of the World Academy is a K-8 Montessori charter school located at the old St. Mary’s School in Pinckney, authorized by Grand Valley State University. As part of the school’s mission of community service – both locally and globally – the school adopted a small village in Uganda about two years ago.
This village – led by a woman affectionally known as “Mama Sarah” – wanted to build a chicken farm in order to help feed the local population and provide jobs. In order to do so, they needed $10,000, which is a small fortune in Uganda.
The Light of the World Academy students took on the mission and helped raise the money needed to build the chicken farm. A student from the school even joined the contingent that went to Uganda to deliver the money to Mama Sarah.
Mama Sarah herself came to the United States last year to thank the LOTWA students in person, and she told them that the village badly needed a new milking cow, too. So the students adopted that as a fundraising mission, and raised enough money last year to buy not just one cow, but two.
All of which got Elijah Smith to thinking – wouldn’t it be great to come up with a way to provide some sustainable income for Mama Sarah’s village?
That’s what he hit upon the idea of building a chicken coop at Light of the World Academy. Elijah’s idea was that they would raise chickens and sell the eggs, and then send that money to Mama Sarah’s village.
The school had helped build a chicken farm in Uganda to assist the village. Now they’d be building one in Pinckney that would help the village, too.
Elijah formed a Chicken Coop Committee, which took the idea to the school administration. LOTWA is big on student-led projects and learning, so they told Elijah and his committee to take the idea and run with it.
There was a spot at the school – an overgrown courtyard – that would be the perfect location. They determined they needed about $1,500 to build the coop, and they were able to raise that money through a grant from EAS Schools that Elijah wrote and submitted himself. Elijah convinced his dad, Chris – a skilled builder – to handle the design and construction.
Then they hit another hurdle. The Village of Pinckney ordinance on chickens said that you could only have four hens at any one location in the village. Elijah and his committee wanted to be able to collect a few more eggs than that every week, so they petitioned the village to be allow them to have six hens.
Elijah himself went before the Pinckney Village Council earlier this year to make the request. As it happened, State Sen. Joe Hune (R-Fowlerville) and State Rep. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) were both at the meeting for another matter, and when they saw Elijah in action, they were blown away. It’s not every day that you see a sixth-grader petitioning his local government. Learning to speak in public is a big part of the curriculum at Light of the World Academy, though, so Elijah had been well-prepared for the moment.
Hune and Theis asked Elijah to keep them posted on the chicken coop’s progress. The Pinckney Village Council was equally impressed with Elijah – so impressed, in fact, that it voted to change the ordinance entirely, to allow six chickens at every location in the village.
That’s right – thanks to Elijah Smith, an entire law was changed.
The summer was spent building the coop, and it’s the most state-of-the-art chicken coop you’ve ever seen. It will eventually include a solar-powered water-heating system for the winter, along with security cameras, so Elijah and his friends can keep tabs on the chickens 24/7.
The chickens that would come to live at Light of the World Academy were even hatched by the students themselves. Elijah’s class hatched and nurtured them in the spring, and then they went to live at LOTWA Montessori director Kathy Moorehouse’s house for the summer until the school’s coop was ready for them.
So the entire project was a learning process – conceiving the idea, funding the project, building the chicken coop, hatching and raising the chickens – and it was done entirely by the students themselves. As school director Moorehouse points out, that’s the way they do things at Montessori schools like Light of the World Academy.
The big night finally arrived on Friday, Oct. 12 – the chicken coop ribbon-cutting. Nearly 200 students and parents crowded into the Light of the World Academy gymnasium that night for the big occasion.
Zac Williams, the poultry extension specialist at Michigan State University, had heard about the chicken coop project and made a special trip to Pinckney for the occasion. He congratulated Elijah and his committee on the accomplishment, and told them about the importance of poultry farming in Michigan.
Also on hand for the occasion was Sen. Joe Hune, who had been so impressed with Elijah’s appearance at the Pinckney Village Council meeting. Hune presented Elijah with a state tribute that had been signed by himself, State Rep. Lana Theis and Gov. Rick Snyder, telling him how proud the entire state was about what he had accomplished. A farm boy himself, Hune told Elijah and the crowd a few stories of his own about raising chickens.
Pastor Vicky Lovell of Zion Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor (formerly of Shalom Lutheran Church in Pinckney), who has been to Mama Sarah’s village in Uganda several times, told Elijah and the students how grateful Mama Sarah was for everything they’ve done and are continuing to do.
Elijah then spoke to the crowd, telling everyone the story of how the chicken coop came to be, and of how happy he was that they’re going to be able to raise more money for Mama Sarah’s village by selling eggs.
Then came the moment the students had been waiting for – the welcoming of the chickens. Raffle tickets had been sold for the privilege of naming each of the chickens, and one at a time, as each chicken was introduced, a name was drawn and a student came forth to name the bird. The names ranged from “Thunder” to “Scarlet Rose.”
The chickens were brought out to their new home, and by Saturday afternoon, the first eggs began to appear. They’ll be collected each day and sold on a regular basis – they estimate they’ll get a dozen or two every week.
All the students in the school are feeding and caring for the chickens themselves, and Moorehouse has turned the chicken coop area into a true hands-on outdoor classroom (another hallmark of Montessori), teaching the students about agriculture and sustainable living.